Bike Commuter Journal – To the Train Station, All Winter Long

Friday, April 11 by JerryFoster

Melinda bikePlease welcome another guest commuter, Melinda Posipanko, this week – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact us at wwbikeped@gmail.com.

I seem to have had this conversation with someone almost every day this winter:  Question: “Did you ride in today?”  My answer: “Yeah.  It wasn’t too bad out.” Reply: Either 1)”Wow”, 2)”You’re insane”, 3) “Impressive”, or 4) a sad shake of the head.

Now to be completely transparent, “riding in” for me means a 1.5 mile ride from my house to the Princeton Junction train station.  Not exactly a grueling bike commute.  And I’m nobody’s idea of a “cyclist”; more tortoise than hare and riding an el-cheapo bike I bought at Kmart 5 years ago.

Let me be clear.  I HATE COLD.  So why have I gotten layered-up every morning to bike commute?  It’s not a simple answer.  I’m not crazy (at least not completely), but I really love using my body to move itself from one place to another.  I ride my bike, I take the stairs when practical, and I usually take the easy-to-find far out parking space at the mall.  Moving my body feels good.  And even a short bike ride in the morning can make a huge difference in my overall energy level for the day.

It makes some practical sense, too.  It used to take me just about the same amount of time at the end of the day to walk to my permit parking space as it now takes for me to ride home.  I don’t have to clean off my car when it snows.  Now, I pay $22.50 /quarter to rent a bike locker instead of $120/quarter for a parking space.

But really, I think it’s mostly the sense of accomplishment I have when I make it to the train under my own power no matter what Mother Nature throws at me.  Me against the world…that sort of thing.   I’m proud of the fact that I’ve driven into the station fewer than 10 times since October – and only then on days when the roads were clearly not safe.

And I’m obviously not alone.  I’ve seen bike riders and empty CitiBike stalls all over NYC even on the coldest days.

So I’ll continue to suit up and head out every day that I can.  And keep looking forward to spring!

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – How Things Change, or Not

Friday, April 4 by JerryFoster

Please welcome Steve Kruse as our guest bike commuter this week – he chairs the Princeton Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and bike commuted from Princeton to Plainsboro through 2005. Steve joins us via an article he wrote almost 17 years ago, Two Wheels To Work, which appeared in the U.S. 1 Newspaper, May 28, 1997, used here with kind permission of author and publisher.

It’s great to get a view from last century, to see what has improved, and what hasn’t. Steve’s article mentions road conditions, policies, motorists both considerate and not, and several planned improvements to the area.

Steve noted that “New Jersey does not spring to mind as an especially bicycle-friendly place.” Is that still true? Maybe, but NJ DOT adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2009, so future improvements should include accommodations for biking and walking, transit users and those covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. As our readers know, the state has jurisdiction over only the federal highways and interstates and a few other major arteries. Fortunately for today’s Princeton to Plainsboro bike commuters, Mercer and Middlesex counties, as well as Princeton and Plainsboro have all adopted Complete Streets policies – click here to see everyone in New Jersey who’ve adopted Complete Streets.

Significant improvements have also been made to onstreet bike lanes in West Windsor, which are beginning to form a network. Steve mentioned staying out of the “door zone” of onstreet parked cars on Harrison – Princeton’s shared lane pavement markings (“sharrows”), including on Harrison, guide cyclists (and notify motorists) to the safe lane position away from cars. Plainsboro continues to extend it’s network of paved multi-use paths. The League of American Bicyclists have designated West Windsor and Princeton Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Communities, and Princeton University earned New Jersey’s first Bicycle Friendly University award.

As you read Steve’s article, what do you notice has changed? What has not?

This post also appeared in On the Move, the blog for Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – Wake Up and Smell the Bakery

Friday, March 28 by JerryFoster

Don Pillsbury bikePlease welcome another guest commuter this week, Don Pillsbury – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact us at wwbikeped@gmail.com

How far is your commute? For me it is almost a trick question. The first half of my commute is 35 miles – snaking through Trenton, Bordentown, Mt. Holly and eventually to my office in Mt Laurel. For the trip home I “cheat” and use the RiverLine train for half the journey. The ride from my office to Riverside Station is 8 miles and then there is another 8 miles home from the Trenton Transit Station. The round trip is 50 miles.

Except for this winter, I typically do this twice a week. I’ve come to cherish each piece of the route for what it is. The early morning ride on car-free roads that I would not normally be brave enough to travel. The smell of the Guatemalan bakery preparing the day’s treats. Watching the sun rise over Burlington County farmland. The trip home is the antithesis. Passing schools and playgrounds bustling with activity. Pausing for 40 minutes to read on the train and enjoy the camaraderie of regulars. And finally, riding through the City of Trenton with all of its urban vitality.

It was Ernest Hemingway that said: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them.” Perhaps my route is too flat to fully appreciate Mr. Hemingway’s point. But then I think his observation misses the nuances of life that can be witnessed and appreciated by riding a bike.

This post also appeared in On the Move, the blog for Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – My Moment of Commuter Zen

Friday, March 21 by JerryFoster

whit at workPlease welcome Whit Anderson, our guest commuter this week – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact us at wwbikeped@gmail.com.

I love my commute. Rarely a weekday goes by when I am not appreciative of how lucky I am to have it. I bike commute from Hopewell Borough to Princeton University’s Forrestal campus, four or five times a week, all the year round. For the most part, my route is quite idyllic – lovely bike lanes on most of CR518 (I am working on Mercer County to address the parts lacking), scenic bike path on the Kingston Branch Loop Trail and a quick turn up to Mapleton where I give the bald eagles a nod if they happen to be nesting.  When I get to my lab, a suite of bike lockers and racks are waiting for me, and inside we have showers and changing facilities.  Yep, it is a pretty sweet deal.

Even after describing my commute to people I still get the “you are crazy” comments. Most of the time I laugh and shrug it off – too bad for them, they will never know what they are missing. “Me crazy? They are crazy” – that’s what I would always say to myself.

Then this winter happened. A few times this winter I caught myself agreeing with them – even with the multiple layers of wool and synthetics, the studded winter tires and a large thermos of steaming coffee I found myself thinking, “I am crazy”.  But the thought never lasts long. As soon as I get to my destination the feeling of accomplishment washes away any lingering negativity. That, and the hope that spring is just around the corner. Come on spring.

This post also appeared in On the Move, the blog for Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – Accessorizing the Commuter Bike

Friday, March 14 by JerryFoster

Commuter Bike AccessoriesLet’s talk commuter accessories – those extra bits that let you enjoy your work life on the bike. At only two miles, it’s easy for me to bike in work clothes without overheating, especially in winter. Pictured hanging from the handlebar is helmet, safety glasses with rearview mirror, plus a reflective velcro leg band.

A handlebar bag is held with a quick release system, and is large enough for planner and personal effects, along with a small first aid kit and snacks – it has a shoulder strap and functions as a briefcase. We won’t talk about all the extra “stuff” that ends up rattling around in there. The same quick release system is on all my bikes, with several compatible bags and backpacks that can be attached.

Permanently attached to the back rack is a lockable plastic trunk box – both the handlebar bag and trunk box are dry in a rainstorm, and the box is large enough to hold dress shoes and the helmet. Inside the trunk box is a saddle bag (off my road bike), with spare tube, foldable tire and multi-tool, which lives in the box along with a tire pump and bike lock. The pump can move to the handlebar bag if it’s rattling around too much in back.

The platform pedals don’t require special bike shoes, and this very cold and snowy winter I’ve enjoyed nice warm dry feet, thanks to rubber-covered neoprene shoes. If it’s dry and not too cold the dress shoes are OK to bike in.

Layers are key to commuting comfort – single digit temperatures or wet conditions bring out the rain pants, while a weather-proof shell parka and fleece mid-layer keeps the cold at bay. You can fine tune your comfort by having a variety of knit caps of different thicknesses (for under the helmet), as well as a waterproof helmet cover for rain. For your hands, the running companies make fleece liners and stretchy shell fabric mittens, which can then be used inside a larger waterproof mitten shell for very cold conditions. Bright colors and reflective trim add visibility on the road, a plus for outer layers.

This post also appeared in On the Move, the blog for Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – The Commuter Bike

Friday, March 7 by JerryFoster

bike-at-work-3This post marks the debut of a new series for our blog, based on bicycle commuting. As a longtime cyclist but a newbie bike commuter, I’ll look at the issues faced by those who want to explore bike commuting as a fun, healthy and sustainable lifestyle choice.

Let’s assume for the moment that you know why you want to bike commute, but want to know what bike is right for commuting? The great news is that any bike will do, especially for short distances over relatively flat terrain.

Some vital components necessary for commuting safety and comfort may be missing though on typical recreational bikes; such as a kickstand, fenders, bell and lights. Fortunately, reasonably priced after-market choices are readily available from your local bike shop or online.

Since I’ve enjoyed my various bikes for many years, however, I bought a new, full-featured commuter bike (pictured). The bike features a relatively light and stiff aluminum frame, fixed fenders, a light capacity rear rack, disc brakes and gearing for hills, and includes a sturdy kickstand and a bell. Most of all, I wanted the electricity-generating front hub that powers permanently mounted front and rear LED lights.

The lights are key to enhancing visibility on the road, since most motorists don’t expect cyclists, and as a commuter I don’t have the advantage of riding in a group, as on a club ride. The front light is powerful enough to see the road at night, and I won’t need to worry about battery life.

And don’t underestimate the utility of fenders…just one ride in the rain or snow and you will understand their benefit!

In the next post I’ll address some additions to the bike, but in the meantime please feel free to comment!

This post also appeared in On the Move, the blog for Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Movie Afternoon at the Arts Center – Bicycle Dreams

Wednesday, January 29 by JerryFoster

bicycle-dreams-movie-posterPlease join us Sunday February 23 at 5:00pm for a showing of Bicycle Dreams at the West Windsor Arts Center. Admission is free for WWBPA or WWAC members, $5 otherwise.

Bicycle Dreams (2010) covers the 2005 Race Across America, described as ‘having more drama in eight days than an entire Tour de France’. Considered the most challenging sporting event in the world, Race Across America is an epic 3,000 mile bike race from the Pacific to the Atlantic, with top riders finishing in under ten days. Riders cycle over 300 miles per day and sleep only a few hours a night. This award-winning film follows several riders, capturing every emotional and physical breakdown, late-night strategy session and great moments of personal triumph as they overcome searing desert heat, agonizing mountain climbs and endless stretches of open road, all while battling extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation. What starts as an adventure of a lifetime is transformed when tragedy strikes the race. As the race unfolds it’s clear that sometimes it’s not all about the bike.

Hope to see you there! The West Windsor Arts Center is at 952 Alexander Rd, at Scott Ave, an easy walk from the train station, which offers free weekend parking for Arts Center events in the West Windsor commuter lot.

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Bike Repair Class and Clinic

Thursday, January 16 by Kathy Brennan Werth

Want to learn some basic bike repair? On Saturday, January 25, 1-3pm, we’re holding a clinic at the Twin “W” Rescue Squad building, 21 Everett Drive, near the West Windsor Police Station.

Learn bike maintenance tips such as changing and airing tires, cleaning and lubing chains, and brake and gear adjustments. Bicycles are welcomed, but not required. No sign-ups required, but RSVP’s are appreciated. Email wwbikeped@gmail.com - hope to see you there!

Get more information by clicking the link: Bike Repair Clinic Flyer.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Standards

Wednesday, December 11 by JerryFoster

Using Desired Operating SpeedTo learn to love our traffic engineers, we have to understand why they don’t feel they have the authority to design roads to meet citizens’ needs – the standards won’t let them.

Marohn notes that standards are “the engineering profession’s version of defensive medicine.”

Gary Toth invites us to “marvel at how thoroughly the transportation establishment delivered on its perceived mandate”, including  “language/terminology; funding mechanisms; curriculum at universities; values; and policies. Common professional organizations… reinforce and standardize this… at a scale that has rarely been matched by any other profession.”

Citizens should note that engineers are required to follow the standards for traffic signals (Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) – the others are guidelines.

Toth advises “Design manuals often present standards in ranges from minimum to desirable. Has the designer selected the desirables instead of minimums?” Residents will want the minimums, as the “desirables” are from the point of view of creating a wider, straighter and faster roadway.

Conventional DesignIn this series, we’ve set up a “straw man” based on traditional engineering practices. The critique reported here comes from within the profession, however, and context sensitive standards such as NJDOT’s Smart Transportation Guidebook have been published that, if implemented, will significantly improve livability, which is the goal of the WWBPA.

We’ve seen how standards’ flexibility enable engineers to design bike and walk friendly roadways, so in our next installment, we’ll look at liability concerns.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Cost

Wednesday, December 4 by JerryFoster

NJ.COM Picture

NJ.COM Picture

To learn to love our traffic engineers, we must understand why they prioritize cost least when designing roadway improvements. Cost varies a lot – $1M / lane mile is a general rule of thumb, but the NJ Turnpike’s current expansion costs $14.7M / lane mile and Boston’s Big Dig cost $136.2M / lane mile.

Standard engineering practice is to build for more speed, which means more and wider lanes, plus expanded roadside sight distances, which may require purchasing right-of-way, etc., all adding to the cost. Also, engineers are required to forecast volume 20 years into the future and build for anticipated increases.

But other factors are at work – e.g. a 1961 bridge in Washington State cost $159M in today’s dollars, but the replacement is projected to cost $4.6B, including 2 additional lanes.

This dramatic $4B increase over inflation points to issues on the process, financial and political sides, including the revolving door between government and private industry, politicians’ dependence on corporate contributions to get re-elected, government dependence on borrowing to finance road projects, even “commonplace” corruption, according to a New York State report.

If nobody has an incentive and/or is held accountable for cost containment, neither politicians nor engineers, it’s easy to see why it’s not a priority.

We’ve finished examining how citizens prioritize safety, cost, volume and speed differently than traffic engineers, so our next installment will look at one reason engineers use to convince us that they know best – because of the standards.

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